Synod was a 'spiritual journey': Cardinal Nichols

Jesuit parishes in the Archdiocese of Westminster have heard Cardinal Vincent Nichols' first-hand reflection on the Synod on the Family. In a pastoral letter read out at all Masses in the diocese, he called his participation a privilege, saying he found it “a rich and moving experience”.

In addition to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Farm Street, Mayfair, the Jesuits serve St Ignatius parish in Stamford Hill and St Anselm’s in Southall. Parishioners at these churches heard how the two-week meeting of bishops and others in Rome had not been about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality, but rather “about the pastoral care that we try to offer each other, the 'motherly love of the Church', especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.”

Cardinal Nichols also sought to dispel the suggestion that Pope Francis was disappointed by the outcome of the meeting or that it was a defeat for him, saying that at the end of the Synod, the Pope “spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work”.

“He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit,” Cardinal Nichols wrote. “The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber ... It was a marvellous experience of the Church as a family and of the Church, at this level, hard at work, trying to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and express them in carefully chosen words.”

Pastoral Care

The Cardinal developed this theme of the Synod’s journey further when he described it as “an exploration of all the problems facing the family today, from the effects of war, immigration, domestic violence, polygamy, inter-religious marriages, to cohabitation, the breakdown of marriage, divorce and the situation of those who have ended a valid marriage and entered another union, another marriage.” He added that on occasions, the vastness of the picture and the suffering it represented felt “overwhelming”.

In his Pastoral Letter to be read at all Masses on the 30th Sunday of the Year, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster highlighted two issues that had attracted media attention during the Synod on the Family: unmarried couples or Catholics in second marriages and the relationships of people of a same sex attraction. “A central principle for this pastoral care emerged clearly,” he said, “that in trying to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations, it is important to see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives. That is what comes first. From this point, we learn to move together towards conversion and towards the goodness of life that God has for us and that Jesus opens for us all. This positive approach flows right through the 'Synod Report’ and I hope will increasingly shape our attitude towards each other.”

Cardinal Nichols reminded parishioners that Pope Francis spoke at the Synod of the Church being “composed of sinners”, needing to have doors that are wide open not just for the just but for the needy and the penitent. “He spoke about the duty of pastors always to welcome into the Church those in difficult situations or in trouble. Then he corrected himself saying that we, as pastors, were not simply to welcome them but to go out and find them, just as the Good Shepherd did for those who had drifted away.”

The Cardinal concluded his Pastoral Letter by quoting Pope Francis’ statement that the Church will now be looking ahead to the Synod on the Family in October 2015: “’We still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families ... May the Lord accompany us and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name.'”

Father General Adolfo Nicolás SJ gave an interview at the end of the Synod in which he said he hoped the Church's pastoral compassion expressed at the Synod would continue to evolve.

Archdiocese of Westminster website